December 30, 2008

Practice Insider: Frosh could play role

At the tail end of practice, USC head coach Pete Carroll had his seniors gathered while the rest of the team formed two lines at the door to Howard Jones Field.

The players outstretched their arms, forming a tunnel for USC's seniors to walk through on their last day of practice in their USC careers.

While so much of USC's bowl preparation has been geared towards sending the Trojan seniors out with a win, the near month of practice has been an opportunity for USC's next generation of stars to assert themselves.

"This is extremely important, and we've reminded them of that throughout the process. We remind them on the days they do get featured opportunities. We really saw a lot of guys," Carroll said. "I can't deny the fact that there are many times when we're watching the younger guys out there, and we're looking at them as if we were next year.

"I can't help but do that."

But, Carroll and Trojan fans might not have to wait until next season to see how some true freshmen handle the biggest stage of their careers - the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

With fullback Stanley Havili academically ineligible for the game, freshman D.J. Shoemate will be one of three players USC will use in the backfield with Havili shelved.

And with senior safety Kevin Ellison out, freshman Drew McAllister becomes third in USC's safety rotation, backing up Taylor Mays and Will Harris.

McAllister said going through his first bowl game experience has been a good time, but it's been a challenge.

"It's a different thing. It's an entire week of activities and preparation stuff. I think it takes a little more focus than previous games because there are all these other distractions," he said. "It's nice to learn from the seniors and see how they're going about preparing even with all this other stuff to handle.

"I didn't know what to expect. I had never been through anything like this. I talked to some of the guys a little, but going through all of this, it's been crazy. I'm having fun."

Shoemate and McAllister both said their first seasons flew by, but, now that his team needs him, Shoemate said he's ready to step in and step up.

"Coming in as freshmen, we didn't know anything. This is like advanced football in a sense," he said. "When you go to school, you have your regular history and your regular math, and this is your advanced history and advanced math. It's either get aboard or get off.

"You just have to do it."

With all the lights and cameras and activities, it'd be understandable if Shoemate's head was spinning.

Luckily for USC, it isn't.

"We're not trying to think of it as any more than it is. We're trying to make it as normal as any other game," Shoemate said. "The coaches do a great job of grounding us and keeping us focused n what we need to do

"This has truly been a blessing. I'm not used to this."

Extra Points

• As USC players left Lawry's The Prime Rib, tabloid cameras from TMZ.com were on hand to quiz USC players like Mark Sanchez and Rey Maualuga on Vice President-elect Joe Biden, disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and euthanasia.

Not everyone fared so well.

Carroll seemed amused about the incident Tuesday.

"I showed it to the fellas," he said. "I apologized. I spent so much time and emphasis when we're talking about the presidential aspect of the election that we had a couple of faux pas. We had to talk about the Illinois governor. We had a lot to catch up on.

"We're ready now. You could ask them. Unfortunately, TMZ got there first."

• Carroll said wide receiver Damian Williams and running back Stafon Johnson are 100 percent healthy headed into the Rose Bowl.

• Current offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said he'd take a few days off after the Rose Bowl before heading up to Washington to assume full-time duties as the Huskies' new head coach.

• USC returned to a much drier Howard Jones Field for its final practice, and the weather cooperated, with temperatures over 70 degrees and a bright sun in the sky.

"It's amazing isn't it? The build up to this game has been perfect," Carroll said. "Hopefully we can take all of our preparation, the build up and the hype to this game and perform really, really well.

"We know we have to. We know that's what it will take to win this game."

• Carroll said he wasn't surprised that UCLA and USC were making headlines in regards to Ken Norton Jr. and some recruiting tactics.

"Everybody wanted to see a rivalry. When you're this close, stuff is going to come up now and again," Carroll said. "This is over, but I'd bet there will be more stuff.

"…It's part of it, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it."

• New Mexico State announced Tuesday that it has hired current Bruin defensive coordinator and former Carroll assistant Dwayne Walker as the Aggies' new head coach.

Speculation had been that Norton Jr. would be interested in the opening if it were to be created.

"I think that was pretty much cleared up in the past couple of days," Carroll said.

• Carroll said Havili's academic issues would not carry over into the next academic semester.

"He's out for the game," Carroll said. "It's just an academic issue for right now, the end of this season."


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